On the Removal of Trams in Switzerland: The Role of Direct Democracy in Basel

Special Report: Forming Networks in Switzerland
By Christophe Jemelin, Vincent Kaufmann


If the removal of the tram network in Swiss-French cities (except one line in Geneva) occurred without conflict or public consultation, the Basle case-study particularly illustrates the role of direct democracy in the evolution of transport policy. Indeed, discussions were intense from the 1950s on as regards the preservation or removal of the tram, with numerous referendums organized. Through a historical analysis, the article shows that the implementation of a political agenda, rather than referendums, influenced the preservation of the network, since certain negative voting results were countered by a strong governmental strategy.
The presence of a common reference to prioritize public transport is also an element that explains the preservation of trams, which is not necessarily an influence of Swiss-German culture as some often suggest (trams were removed in Schaffhausen, St. Gallen, Lucerne, etc.). Instead, in Basle, the main factor seems to rest in a tradition of innovation attested to by the implementation of the first tram-train network, global community pricing, ecological subscriptions at reduced prices, and cross-border regional train systems in Switzerland.
A regard of the tri-national Basle region (Switzerland, France, and Germany) highlights the diffusion of this common reference in Germany, with the regional train lines operated under Swiss regulations by the Swiss Federal Railways company. However, the French border appears to be more impermeable to this model.
Go to the article on Cairn-int.info